I have some questions about this one. We all know author Nicholas Sparks is a fan of his characters writing letters, and that's cool. It's a dying art form, and to actually see a person take pen to paper is unexpectedly refreshing and comforting in this age of handheld devices, no punctuation and lack of capitalization. In the latest of his novels adapted for the screen (I believe this is film number 10), THE LONGEST RIDE, the character of Ira Levinson (played as an elderly gent by Alan Alda and a strapping younger man circa the 1940s by "Boardwalk Empire's" Jack Huston) writes an endless series of letters to his beloved and eventual wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin formerly of "Game of Thrones").
But with the exception of a short time when Ira serves during World War II, they are almost never separated, so why is he writing her letters? And why do said letters essentially amount to summaries of the day the just had together? It's like he wrote about the day in his journal, tore the page out, and mailed it to Ruth. These are the things I obsessively wondered about during the many exceedingly boring stretches of THE LONGEST RIDE, because what choice did I have?
And the Ira-Ruth love story isn't even the primary plotline here. No, that belongs to the far less interesting North Carolina college student and art enthusiast Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson, formerly of "Under the Dome" and soon to be seen as the lead in TOMORROWLAND), who is about to graduate and move to New York City to begin her career at an art gallery. That is until her best friend Marcia (Melissa Benoist of WHIPLASH) convinces her to go to a bull-riding competition, where she first lays eyes on Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood, son of Clint), a former champion rider who was severely injured on his last ride a year earlier, and is just beginning his comeback. And boy is he dreamy. Naturally, a wise girl like Sophia is hesitant to start dating someone when she's on the verge of leaving town, but she agrees to one date with Luke, and things go well.
On the rainy drive home, they stumble upon a car accident and manage to pry the car's sole occupant, Ira, out and save a box of the aforementioned letters before the car blows up. (Next question: Why is Ira carrying around a box of letters that he wrote?) They get Ira to the hospital, and Sophia agrees to sit with Ira for a while, and the two strike up a curious friendship that involves her reading the letters to him. Luke feels slightly hurt that Sophia isn't interested in dating him long term, so he throws himself into the bull riding, despite the fact that it clearly distresses his mother (Lolita Davidovich).
THE LONGEST RIDE moves back and forth between bull-riding adventures and flashbacks into Ira and Ruth's life together as a young Jewish couple that begin a small art collection that ends up being a fairly important private collection. There is drama about being able to have kids, but really their life is pretty good until Ruth passes away. Director George (SOUL FOOD) Tillman Jr. (working from a script by Craig Bolotin) does his darndest to convince us that these two romances have some connection, but I'll be damned if I could spot it.
As we have come to expect from Sparks' stories, there's an ending that I do think even qualifies as a "twist"—no character turns out to be a ghost or anything of that nature. If anything, it might be one of the laziest conclusions to one of his romances that I've ever seen. I'm actually a fan of romance films that actually take a serious look at what brings and keeps two people together, but THE LONGEST RIDE is a gimmick, as are most of the films based on Sparks' material.
The bull-riding scenes are actually very exciting, and I liked the way Tillman uses slow motion to really show us how much the rider and bull twist and flail during those eight seconds of hell. I was far more intrigued by the Ira and Ruth romance, primarily because it featured far better acting. Aside from those elements, there isn't much to recommend about this by-the-numbers love story, other than pretty faces, a modicum of charm, and some pretty Carolina landscapes.